WFH Employment Tribunal Cases to Rise As Return to Office Mandates Increase

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WFH Employment Tribunal Cases to Rise As Return to Office Mandates Increase
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As more employers across the UK begin to instate “return to office mandates” within their organisations, legal and HR experts are expecting a corresponding increase in the number of WFH Employment Tribunal cases opposing this. Read on as we discuss the likelihood of this possibility and consider how employers might achieve successful hybrid working arrangements.

Will There Be More WFH Employment Tribunal Cases?

Over the past few months, the number of employers clamping down on existing home working arrangements has increased. As such, more employers are requiring their employees to return to the office on either a full-time or regular basis.

Last month, Sir Jim Ratcliffe ordered all Man Utd employees back to the office full-time from 1 June. The same will apply to administrative staff at Boots from September. According to KPMG’s CEO Outlook 2023, 64% of chief executives globally anticipate a complete return to office work by 2026.

Consequently, employee relations expert at Hamilton Nash, Jim Moore, spoke about his expectations for an increase in WFH Employment Tribunal cases. He said, “We’re seeing significant tensions between flexible working requests from people keen to secure their hybrid arrangements and employers pushing people back into the office.”

READ: Santander CEO Champions Remote Work Benefits

Furthermore, senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, Gemma Dale, voiced concerns about employers’ reasons for implementing return-to-office mandates. She stated that these are sometimes based more on individual attitudes towards remote working than data. She continued, “The progress made on flexible working is quite fragile. The Homes Under the Hammer fallacy that everyone who is working from home is watching TV is still strong in some organisations.”

“Employers Emboldened by FCA Case”

Last year, senior manager Elizabeth Wilson brought a claim against her employer, the Financial Conduct Authority, because she wanted to continue working from home. The Employment Tribunal didn’t uphold her claim, as it was based on the assertion that the FCA had failed to correctly consider her flexible work request, which was found not to be the case.

However, whilst this ruling isn’t binding, some believe it will embolden employers to require employees to return to the office. Judge Richter, who heard Miss Wilson’s claim, stated that her case had raised issues with respect to remote working “which will no doubt be the subject of continued litigation”.

Creating Successful Hybrid Working Arrangements

The potential for an increase in WFH Employment Tribunal cases is likely to cause employers some concern. Those considering ending remote working may now be wondering how they can achieve this without sparking potentially costly litigation.

In such circumstances, it’s advisable to take a collaborative approach, consulting employees and considering their input before making a decision about home working. Employees should be kept in the loop regarding discussions on the topic and receive information about the reasons for any changes to working-from-home arrangements. This involvement is likely to make employees feel more valued than if they were simply issued with instructions without explanation.

Read: Flexible Working: Making Requests from Day One

Additional consideration should be given to employees who meet certain criteria, including those with a disability or caring responsibilities. The former may require reasonable adjustments to enable them to work effectively in the office. The latter may need flexible working arrangements to enable them to fulfil their carer roles.

Making Hybrid Working Work. 
WFH employment tribunal cases are likely to soar as return-to-office mandates increase.
To avoid this, employers should consider implementing effective hybrid working policies. This could be achieved through communication and collaboration with the workforce.

Employees are entitled to request flexible working arrangements, and employers are obliged to consider these on a case-by-case basis. Flexible working requests may only be refused on certain grounds, and a decision must be made within a set timeframe.

Citation’s employment law director, Gill McAteer, has urged careful consideration of the best approach to adopt when ending home working. She has warned employers about the risks of implementing a return-to-office mandate and the potential for WFH Employment Tribunal cases. She said, “Though it’s possible that a full-time office policy can be effectively implemented if the correct processes are followed, it is worth considering the negative impact this could have on culture, retaining staff and attracting new talent in a market where flexibility is highly sought by candidates.”

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